If you were not aware, New York is split into multiple zones not only for deer hunting but also for waterfowl hunting. As if that isn’t confusing enough, the waterfowl hunting zones are different for duck and goose hunting.
So, if you are new to waterfowl hunting, make sure you double check the maps and season dates to make sure you are completely legal.
In terms of duck hunting, pretty much anywhere that gets this newspaper is in the Southeast Zone. The line that transitions to the Western Zone around our area is Interstate 81. Once you cross onto the west side of I-81, you are in the Western Zone.
Up until a few years ago, the zones all had different opening days and if you wanted, you could travel the state and hunt each opening day. This year however, the Southeast and Western Zones have the same opening day, so you must choose which zone you want to hunt.
Regardless of which zone you choose, opening day is usually the best day to hunt since the ducks haven’t been hunted much (youth season was a couple weeks ago and this upcoming weekend is a special Veteran’s Only weekend).
The main drawback is that ducks may still be changing into their winter plumage. In addition to making duck identification tricky, shooting a duck to get it mounted might be more difficult. If this is something you want to do, talk to your taxidermist ahead of time to know what to look for to know if it will mount. They will also tell you how to handle the duck once it is harvested to make the best mount.
Early season duck hunting tends to get split into two categories, pass shooting and decoying. Wood ducks like to fly along small creeks and rivers, often finding little holes to stay hidden in. This makes them tough to get to come into a decoy spread. So, if you know a small stream where wood ducks like to fly up and down, you can set up to shoot ducks are they are cruising the treetops.
A few decoys and a spinning wing decoy can get them to come within gun range as they pass by. Be wary of your shooting directions when thinking about this tactic. Pass shooting can also get more difficult once the sun is fully up and the ducks fly higher since they can see better.
Decoying ducks is the more traditional way to hunt them. Setting up with some decoys to get ducks to try to land with them so that you get good shots at the ducks. Building a blind to hide in or using a blind such as the Avian-X A-frame, keeps you hidden from approaching ducks until you are ready to start shooting.
This early in the season, you don’t need more than a couple dozen decoys and a spinning wing decoy. Put your spinning wing decoy where you want the approaching ducks to try to land as they are drawn to it and often land right next to it.
Set the decoys in clusters to mimic family groups and leave a good-sized opening between them where you put the spinning wing decoy so there is room for approaching ducks to try to land in. If hunting a swamp or pond where the water is standing still, using a jerk rig to add movement to the decoy spread can help get circling ducks to commit to the spread.
Remember, to waterfowl hunt you must purchase a Federal Duck Stamp if you are 16 years old or older and register with the Harvest Information Program (HIP) regardless of age. Also, you must use non-toxic shot when waterfowl hunting.